Two-thirds of Americans tell pollsters they consider the United
States to be a “Christian nation.” And on a personal level, “four out of
five adults still consider themselves Christian, even though they do not
have a relationship of any real depth with God, with Jesus Christ, or
even with a church.” (If Things are so Good, Why do I feel so
bad? by George Barna, 1994, Moody Press, Chicago.)
In his book, pollster Barna segments those who say they are
Christians into five levels. These levels provide a valuable view of
what being Christian means in America today. Yet as the levels show,
“being Christian” means rather different things to different people:
- “Level 1: Raving religious zealots. These are the
fundamentalists and evangelicals. They study the Bible, constantly
attend church, give away large portions of their money to church work,
and even talk about their faith most of the time — sometimes with
people they don’t even know. They take the Bible at face value and
perceive personal spiritual growth to be a cornerstone in their lives.
“Level 2: Born-again Christians. These followers of Christ are
also driven to know and serve God, but they are not quite as aggressive
about their faith as Level 1 Christians. Their primary thrust is to have
a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. They, too, are generally
involved in the life of their church and have very strong feelings about
Jesus Christ and the importance of Christianity in one’s life.
“Level 3: Run-of-the-mill Christians. Typical Americans, these
people were raised with regular exposure to a church and still
frequently attend one. They believe in God, own a Bible, and give money
to their church, but they are less intensively committed to religious
growth and activity. They do not have (nor understand) a ‘personal
relationship’ with Christ.
“Level 4: Cultural Christians. A growing sector of the
population, these people have a nominal faith in Christ and a loose
connection to a church. More than anything, cultural Christians have
inherited their Christian perspective and moorings, but they do not take
matters of faith too seriously. Easter and Christmas are good times of
the year to check in with the church and see that things are going along
as always. Being American pretty much makes them Christians, they
figure, so as long as the nation is in God’s favor, so are they.
“Level 5: Nonbelievers. These people may believe in something,
but it is not the historical Christianity upon which America was built.
This group ranges from adherents to other faiths (such as Judaism,
Buddhism, Islam) to people who do not believe that there is a higher
power or universal life force (i.e., atheists).” (Barna, p.80-81).
Barna’s book did not provide breakouts by age, only figures for
each level of the population. These are: Level 1, 10 percent; Level 2,
25 percent; Levels 3 & 4, 50 percent; and Level 5, 15 percent. Level 5,
incidentally, includes over 300 minor faith “groups that have a
discernible following nationwide.”
One of the things pollsters do, however, is to ask the same question
in a different way later in the poll. They use this as a check in case
people are telling them what they think they want to hear. When he
probed deeper, Barna (p. 90-91) found:
- People were evenly split on crediting Jesus and Billy Graham with
the Sermon on the Mount;
While believing the Ten Commandments are still valid today, less than
four of ten adults can recall any four commandments;
Roughly half of all Americans believe that Jesus made mistakes during
His earthly ministry;
Most Americans have never read the entire Bible and cannot name its
first four books, nor the four New Testament Gospels.
Given these responses, it is worth asking whether the word
“Christian” really means anything today? Perhaps the larger words were
the first to be diluted into oblivion — with the smaller words, like
“is” — being reserved for destruction in our own day?
William J. Federer, author of America’s God and Country
Encyclopedia of Quotations (1994, Fame Publishing, Coppell, Texas,
p.48) found while compiling his book:
- “The Holy Bible was found to have directly contributed to 34
percent of all quotes by the Founding Fathers. This was discovered after
reviewing 15,000 items from the Founding Fathers, (including newspaper
articles, pamphlets, books, monographs, etc.). The other main sources
that the Founders quoted include: Montesquieu, Blackstone, Locke,
There is great discussion today about whether the Founders were
Christian. There can, however, be little doubt that they knew what it
meant to be Christian. As Barna’s results indicate, the same cannot
be said of men and women living in our day.
Jesus had a wonderful knack for simplifying. He said that we would
know a tree by the fruit that it bears. Is America a Christian nation?
A Christian nation is not created by passing laws requiring church
attendance, posting the Ten Commandments in school hallways, and
offering prayers from the classroom. These practices are reflections of
the heart of a nation that is already Christian. As these practices were
stripped away, one by one, the nation’s remaining Christians reacted in
alarm. They fought to regain that which they had lost.
It’s hard to win the war when you are fighting the wrong battles. A
Christian nation is created when the hearts of its people are merged
into the heart of Jesus Christ. The Founding Fathers created a Christian
nation because they were Christian. They could no more have created an
atheist, secular nation than a Muslim one. Their laws were a reflection
of their faith and practice. They did not separate Christianity from
their lives in the world; it was so much a part of their lives that they
expressed it through the government they created and the laws they made.
America truly was a Christian nation: not because of its laws, but
because of its people.
Is America a Christian nation today? It certainly has the foundation.
It has people who truly know what the word “Christian” means. These
people are capable of telling — and more importantly showing — those
around them what “being Christian” means in their lives. And America is
filled with people who recognize a deep spiritual need in their lives;
people who are desperately searching for answers to life’s tough
questions. Maybe it’s time we put these two together? “Go ye therefore.”
Is America a Christian nation? Perhaps that depends on whether we
fill America with Christians?